Maharashtra government’s decision to close government-funded private hostels that house tribal students across the state will leave over 20,000 students homeless. Though the government says these students will be given a monthly stipend of Rs 6,000 for lodging and food, students do not find the option safe.
Over 1,500 students who stay in these hostels in Pune marched to the collector’s office asking the government to reverse its decision.
The tribal development department of Maharashtra’s social justice ministry has been in charge of running these hostels which house tribal students in junior and senior colleges and those enrolled in other higher education programmes.
The department has built an extensive network of hostels and it all started with offering grants from the government to privately-owned hostels for housing tribal students. Currently, 61,070 students stay in both government-run and government-funded private hostels across Maharashtra. But the state plans to shut down a third of the 491 hostels currently in operation.
Starting from the academic year of 2017-18, the government is going to close down these private hostels, leaving 20,535 students to fend for themselves. However, it has started the Deendayal Upadhay Swayam Yojana to provide hostel and food facilities to tribal and poor students in Maharashtra. Under the scheme, the Maharashtra state government will provide financial assistance of Rs 6,000 per month for tier I cities, Rs 5,000 for tier II cities and Rs 4,000 for tier III cities. The scheme will be implemented in time for the beginning of the academic year of 2017-18. Now 20,535 students across the state have to find hostels and food facilities on their own.
Somnath Nirmal, a tribal student pursuing an M.Phil from Savitribai Phule Pune University, who lives in a government-run hostel for tribal students at Bhosari in Pune, said, “this is the first generation of tribal students who have taken admission for higher education. As tribals stay away from civilisation and at faraway places in jungles, they are not aware of how to survive with common people. Our languages, cultures, food habits are far different from common people. It will be difficult for us to stay with regular students at regular private hostels. We lack confidence and the knowledge to survive with people from higher castes and good economic backgrounds.”
He added, “We can progress staying with other tribal students as there will not be inferiority complex and we share the same problems. Hence we want the government to not to close down hostels for tribals.”
Nirmal continued, “How can we trust the state government as we do not get our monthly Rs 800 scholarship on time. It has been seven to eight months and we have not received our scholarship. How can we believe that the government will deposit Rs 6,000 on time in our bank accounts? Private landlords will throw us out of hostels/rooms if we do not pay rent on time.”
Puja Sable, a 20-year-old woman from Katkari, Junnar taluka, is doing her BA in Annabhau Magar College in Hadapsar and stays in a government funded private hostel in Hadapsar. She said, “I belong to a poor family of tribals. My mother is a farm labourer and I do not have a father. My mother does not earn more than Rs 3,000 per month. She has sent me to this hostel as it is free and secure. If the hostel gets closed down, my mother will stop my education. I will be married off soon. That is the case with almost all tribal girls who come from far away to stay in hostels as their parents cannot afford to educate them otherwise. The government should not close down these hostels.”
In Pune, 1,847 students – both girls and boys – stay in government-run or government-funded private hostels. Of this number, only 474 students stay in government-run hostels while the remaining 1,373 students stay in government-funded private hostels. These 1373 students will now have to find private accommodation on their own.
Suraj Kokane, another tribal student says, “according to a government resolution issued on October 30, 2016, students who fail two years will not get a stipend at all. Earlier students who failed used to get stipends for the next year if they managed to pass. But now if tribal students fail two years, they will not be able to get stipends. Our basics are so poor that we take time to study and pass. The government should change this decision as well.”
Meanwhile, the women’s wing of Pune’s Congress party has come forward to support the students. Kamal Vyavhare, All India Women Congress, secretary, said, “The Congress has been trying to get the tribal population into mainstream life. We have been availing the facilities of government hostels for them. But the BJP government, since coming to power, is trying to undo our efforts. Over 60,000 tribal students have not received their stipends in six months. Now they have been asking students to vacate the hostels. We have already met with district officials and are now going to meet Vishnu Sawra, the tribal minister of the state.”
However Rajiv Jadhav, commissioner of the tribal development department, denied that hostels would be closed down, saying, “We have provided the option for students to choose either hostel or scholarship.”
But the government resolution issued on October 30, 2016 clearly says that 20,535 students will be diverted to Deendayal Upadhay Swayam Yojana under which students will be given a stipend of Rs 6,000 per month.
Sanjay Dabhade, an activist who works towards tribal development, said, “The GR (government resolution) mentions that 20,535 students will have to opt for the scheme. The government is pushing tribals in a backward direction. The government-funded private hostels are sent notices that they will not be funded anymore.”